Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Words matter: mobility

Schools, kids

What do you think when you hear the word "mobility?"

Chances are you imagine something to do with freedom of movement, your own ability to get from place to place.  Cars probably come to mind. If  you're young or environmentally attuned, you might think of bikes or dream of commuter trains in Wisconsin's future.

Or you might default to the great American belief in the destiny of improvement of self and nation, moving through jobs, neighborhoods, schools, income levels, social class. For most of recent history, that mobility has seemed to be in one direction: upward.

Student mobility hurts data, audit bureau says, is a subtitle in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The article reports problems interpreting data in order to compare student achievement in voucher schools to that in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). The issue: about 16% of students start in voucher schools but transfer to MPS. So they might be tested in the public schools, but the gains (or losses) they show may have been made in charter or other private schools.

In this case, it's hard to assign a value to mobility. Most of us think it's a good thing for students to be able to move from schools that don't work for them to schools that do. But we don't know if people are moving back to MPS because it's a better experience, because the voucher schools closed, or because the kids were kicked out.

But it's fair to argue that most of the time, too much "student mobility" is a bad thing.

In MPS, 30% of students switch schools at the beginning of each year. During the school year, 25% of high school students, 15% of middle school students, and 12% of elementary school students change schools.

This isn't "mobility:" it's transiency. Drifting. Poverty. Diaspora.

Stability is better for most kids than "mobility." Even if movement from one school to another is motivated by a search for something better, pulling something up by the roots shocks it. It takes time and attention to recover from that shock.

One of Wauwatosa's great strengths is its relative stability. People put down roots here, invest in keeping the community and its schools good enough to stay here.

I think we owe that to all kids. Whoever wins the battle for control of MPS needs to make sure that children have fertile ground in which to grow, and enough time there to blossom.

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